Outdoor Adventures - more than just a ride

by Julie Mecikalski

Question - What do riding, hunting, passion, love, and fun have in common? Answer - Outdoor Adventures.

Saturday, July 15, marked the 3rd Annual Ride sponsored by Outdoor Adventures for the Physically Challenged. The ride started at Village Park in North Freedom, and it covered the vast remote areas and breathtaking views of southwestern Juneau and northeastern Sauk Counties - stopping midway at Hansen’s IGA in Elroy - before returning to Village Park. Over 100 participants rode motorcycles, classic cars, and other vehicles to raise money to take individuals with physical disabilities hunting in Wyoming. The fundraiser also included a live band, food, silent and live auctions, and raffles at Village Park.

“We came last year for the first time, and it was really neat,” stated Connie Piehowski of Genoa, IL, who traveled the farthest to participate. Piehowski and her husband, Dennis, were in- formed of the event last year from friends in the local area. Piehowskis created and donated a gift package as part of a raffle to raise additional funds for this event.

John Martinson of the Sun Prairie area fell 12 feet from scaffolding in 2002 which resulted in paralysis from the waist down. Martinson drove his motorcycle for the first half of the trip. The opportunity for Martinson to participate as a hunter with the Outdoor Adventures organization was in 2012.

“I was in really bad shape (after the fall). I didn’t think I could go hunting or back on my motorcycle again,” commented Martinson, “you don’t believe how something like this can really knock you down.” Martinson hunted with the OA group on a 24,000 acre ranch near Newcastle, WY. “Great organizations like this can give you the confidence to get back up,” he added.

Outdoor Adventures for the Physically Challenged was generated in 2010 when four local men got together to hunt with Dave Reynolds of Elroy. In 2006, Reynolds was hit broadside in a motor vehicle crash resulting in quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down). The men barely knew each other, but during the hunt, created strong friendships that would last a lifetime. The men were mesmerized by watching Reynolds shoot a gun and move his wheelchair using a sip-and-puff device (adaptive device used by people who with quadriplegia for independence). Reynolds would have someone help set up his gun rest on his wheelchair, take aim using a red dot scope for assistance, then shoot by sipping on his tube. The antelope went down 158 yards from Reynolds. It was at that point that the owner decided he wanted to turn his ranch into a physically challenged hunting adventure.

Ron and Barb Brunner, owners of the ranch and founders of OA, noted the ranch is split over 50 miles in the western Black Hills area of eastern Wyoming. Brunner met with five local men who became the board of directors and started a 501(c)(3), a tax-exempt, non-profit organization status under the IRS. “I wanted to get this organization started, but I did not want to run it,” added Ron Brunner, “they (the board of directors) runt he show. I was worried it would go down once I was gone.” For a hunter with physical limitations, the expenses can run from $1500 for mule/antelope hunting to $10,000 for elk hunt- ing. As there is no charge to the hunter, the raised funds cover the hunter’s gas, lodging, food, hunting license, guide, meat processing, and animal head mounting. “About 75-80% is funded by the (OA) fundraisers,” said Brunner.

Participants at the event such as Stephanie Ascher of Pulaski, and Tiffany Nemeth of Pittsville have been chosen to participate in the hunt. Ascher became paralyzed from the waist down in 2004 as a result of a brain tumor resting on her spinal cord. Ascher did not participate in the ride, but did travel to North Freedom for rest of the event. Ascher became acquainted with OA when she attended the Wisconsin Deer Classics and Hunting Expo in Green Bay last year.

“I had been an active hunter since I was eight-years-old,” commented Ascher, “when I found out I was paralyzed, I stopped hunting.” During recovery, Ascher had a mentor who was a quadriplegic and helped her understand activities she could do such as hunting. “I took little steps (with activities) and worked toward achieving the goal of hunting again.”

“While at the Deer Classics, I came up the (OA) table and filled out an application for the hunt. I kind of forgot about it until I got the call that I was accepted to hunt this fall. I am so excited!” exclaimed Ascher, who will be hunting antelope in October with OA.

Nemeth who is a registered nurse and lost her left leg due to a blood infection a year ago was an active hunter and waterskier originally from Florida. She will be participating in her first mule-deer and antelope hunt with OA in early November.

There are numerous volunteers who participate as guides on the trip. “Guides are not permitted on hunt, but they are to help the hunter with the physical challenges,” noted Brunner. James MacLeish, a UPS driver from Merrimac, usually guides once per year. “Guiding is a bigger rush than hunting - their smile is rewarding,” said MacLeish who is also an OA member.

“After seven years, Outdoor Adventures is self-sufficient in funding due to our fundraisers and donations,” OA President Brad “Hammer” Hammermeister commented, “we take out around 14-17 hunters per year.”

OA is supported by numerous people around the state of Wis-consin as witnessed with the numerous spectators, cameras, and signs of support throughout the entire the ride. The organization of the event ran like a well-oiled machine and everything fell into place. The overwhelming passion of the members was demonstrated at the event with hugs and tears. “There is a great bunch of people organizing this event,” added Martinson, “I am grateful for all of them.

Donations are always welcomed. Visit the OA website http://outdooradventurespc.org/ or its Facebook page www.facebook.com/outdooradventurespc.